Happy 2014

I don't make resolutions, but this is my prayer for the New Year. Maybe it will guide your new year too.

"Father, I so thank you for the season of fruitfulness You have given me, but I am asking for a double portion next year.
Would You give me a double portion of grace to shower on those around me?
A double portion of humility, kindness, and love that my flesh would not taint Your work.
A double portion of wisdom and knowledge to share with a despairing world.
A double portion of lost souls that You allow me to bring into Your kingdom.
A double portion of contentment that Your joy might be evident in me regardless of my circumstances.
A double portion of spiritual gifts that would broaden my borders and reach those otherwise unreached.
A double portion of ability that my writing would continue to impact hearts around the world for your glory.
A double cleansing of my heart that I might remain a clear channel through which Your rivers of living water can flow.
Double my opportunities to deliver Your message to those desperate for hope.
And above all, may a double portion of Your Holy Spirit be upon me that I might serve you better.
Your supply for all my need is limitless so I will thank you in advance for everything you are bringing me next year.
In Jesus' name, Amen."

Inner Peace

The world places a priority on inner peace, and it offers thousands of suggestions to those who seek “peace of mind and soul.” Usually, the gurus of inner peace point to oneself as the source of peace. There is much talk of meditation, finding an “inner light,” and chakras. If we need any help from outside of ourselves, worldly wisdom says, it will come in the form of a “spirit guide” or perhaps some crystals or herbs. The problem with such advice, besides the obvious endorsement of witchcraft, is that it completely ignores the source of true peace—the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Bible has a lot to say about peace. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Paul refers to “the God of all peace”. The term peace is often used as a greeting and a benediction (see Luke 24:36). So what exactly is peace, and how can we have “inner peace”?

A word often translated “peace” in the Bible actually means “to tie together as a whole, when all essential parts are joined together.” Inner peace, then, is a wholeness of mind and spirit, a whole heart at rest. Inner peace has little to do with external surroundings. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” He had also told His followers that “in this world you will have many troubles. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). So peace is not the absence of trouble; it is the presence of God.

Peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). When the “God of all peace” comes to live inside a believing heart, He begins to produce His own characteristics in that life. Inner peace comes from knowing that circumstances are temporary and that God is sovereign over all. Peace comes from exercising faith in the character of God and His Word. We can have peace in the midst of challenges when we remember that “all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). We can choose peace rather than give way to fear and worry. Inner peace resulting from a relationship with God allows us to keep things in proper perspective. We can accept difficult situations on earth by remembering that our citizenship is in heaven.

We are commanded to “live in peace” with others, as far as it is up to us. To live at peace means we interact with those around us in accordance with our own wholeness of mind. Our reactions to circumstances can bring peace to an otherwise chaotic situation. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). And James 3:18 says, “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” God’s desire is that we who know Him learn to live in peace within ourselves first. Then we can radiate that peace to others, bringing calmness and wisdom to tense situations, and in so doing be lights in the world.

Alcoholism and the Bible

Alcoholism is just one of many addictions that can take control of someone’s life. Because its effects are obvious, drunkenness can appear to be a worse sin than others. However, the Bible makes no such distinctions. It often equates the sin of drunkenness with sins we would consider “less important,” such as envy and selfish ambition (Galatians 5:19; 1 Corinthians 6:10). It is easy to pass judgment on someone who is falling-down drunk, while secretly excusing sins of the heart that God considers equally repulsive. The right response is to view people as God sees them and agree with Him that we are all sinners in need of saving.

The Bible is clear that drunkenness is sin (Isaiah 5:11; Proverbs 23:20–21; Habakkuk 2:15). Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.” Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” It is interesting that this verse contrasts the power of alcohol with the power of the Holy Spirit. It is saying that if we want to be controlled by the Spirit of God we cannot also be controlled by alcohol. The two cannot simultaneously hold sway. When we choose one, we eliminate the influence of the other. As Christians, we are to always “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16, 25; Romans 8:1, 14). So drunkenness for a Christian is never an option on any occasion because there is no occasion when we should not be walking in the Spirit.

Alcoholism is a form of idolatry, as is any addiction. Anything we are using besides God to meet or medicate deep heart needs is an idol. When we rely on ourselves, someone else, or something else to meet our needs for value, worth, or significance, we have erected an idol that takes the place of the real God in our lives. God views it as such and has strong words for idol worshipers (Exodus 20:3; 34:14; 1 John 5:21; 1 Corinthians 12:2). Alcoholism is not a disease; it is a choice. God holds us accountable for our choices (Romans 14:12; Ecclesiastes 11:9; Hebrews 4:13).

Followers of Christ should strive to love their neighbors as themselves, regardless of the problems or addictions those neighbors may have (Matthew 22:29). But contrary to our modern idea that equates love with tolerance, real love does not tolerate or excuse the very sin that is destroying someone (James 5:20). To enable or excuse alcohol addiction in someone we love is to tacitly participate in their sin.

There are several ways Christians can respond in Christlike love to alcoholics:

1. We can encourage the alcoholics in our lives to get help. A person caught in the trap of addiction needs help and accountability. There are many Christ-centered recovery programs such as Celebrate Recovery that are helping thousands of people break free from the chains of addiction.

2. We can set boundaries in order not to in any way condone the drunkenness. Minimizing the consequences that alcohol abuse brings is not helping. Sometimes the only way addicts will seek help is when they reach the end of their options.

3. We can be careful not to cause others to stumble by limiting our own alcohol use while in the presence of those struggling with it (1 Corinthians 8:9–13). It is for this reason that many Christians choose to abstain from all alcohol consumption in order to avoid any appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22, KJV) and to not put a stumbling block in a brother’s way. Since alcohol in its many forms has such a negative association in our culture, the potential for causing offense in weaker Christians is great. We must weigh our freedom against the possibility of causing others to sin or confusing unbelievers who associate alcohol with their own sinful lifestyles.

We must show compassion to everyone, including those whose choices have led them into strong addiction. However, we do alcoholics no favors by excusing or justifying their addiction. Jesus said we cannot serve two masters (Luke 16:13). Even though the context of His statement is money, the same principle applies to anything that controls us other than God. We must do everything we can to help people break free of whatever sin stronghold binds them so that they can serve and worship God with their whole heart.

Who's Your Nathan?

Sometimes we get too big for our britches!

Even those whose hearts belong to God can get off track to the point where God cannot reach them. He dials; nobody answers. But another wonderful thing about God is that He doesn't quit trying.

David was called "a man after God's own heart." He was God's hand-picked king and spoke with Him face-to-face. David wrote many of the inspired Psalms and was a mouthpiece for God Himself.

But he got too big for his britches.

He turned a stubborn face against the Lord and followed lust instead. One lust led to another until David had innocent blood on his hands. But still he refused to hear God.

So God came at him another way. He used the prophet Nathan. Only when confronted with God's words from another person would David listen.

God does that with us, too. Even when we have heard from God, we know His voice, and we follow Him, we can get off track. We get too big for our britches. We start following our own ideas, lusts, opinions, and desires. We start thinking for ourselves rather than seeking God's thoughts. And we get off into the ditch.

Sometimes even then, we turn our stubborn faces away and keep trying to make it right our own way. But God doesn't give up. He keeps trying. And sometimes he uses other people.

Has God sent a Nathan to you? Has someone spoken God's words right into the middle of your sin? Some people get angry at the Nathan who dared point out their error. 

One thing David did right when shown his sin was that he repented. On the spot. He allowed God's truth to penetrate and demolish the tower of cards he had built and he turned it around. He fully owned what he had done and stopped it. That's called repentance. David repented before the Lord and humbly took the discipline he deserved.

You have a choice when your Nathan confronts you. You can stiffen up in self-righteous anger, or you can follow the righteous example of a man after God's own heart. You can repent, accept the discipline you deserve, and move on to be everything God wants you to be.

Keep an eye out for your Nathans. God sent them.

Too Salty?

Jesus left us with a powerful challenge: we are to be salt and light. 

We hear a lot about the light. Everybody likes light. It's warm and glowy and helps us see. Not a lot of negative things to say about light. But notice how we don't hear a lot today about being salt. Jesus warned us not to lose our saltiness or we are no good to anyone. So what does it look like when we lose our saltiness?

Salt is a necessity of life. Remove it and nothing tastes right. Food rots. Bodies stop functioning properly. Animals go crazy to get a taste of salt when they've been without it. But salt isn't always wanted. No one wants it on their chocolate cake. Or in their hot tea. And too much on anything makes it unpleasant. It is also an irritant. Get it near a wound or open sore and it feels like the enemy. The salt never changes its properties. The difference is in how it is received.

And therein lies the problem. We shy away from being salt because above all, we fear not being received. We avoid any possibility that we may be misunderstood, disliked, or unwanted. We claim it is for the Gospel's sake, but we're not fooling God. In order to be true representatives of Christ, we cannot base our saltiness on how we think our message will be received. Jesus certainly didn't and His saltiness got him crucified. Was He wrong?

When the salty message of Jesus gets too near sin, it becomes an irritant. Most people don't want to hear that they are sinners in need of saving. That's irritating. They don't want to hear about hell, judgement, and absolutes. There is danger of being rejected in proclaiming such truth. So we become bland, insipid, watered down, and inoffensive. We call it positivity, encouragement, or love. But when the whole counsel of God has been reduced to a Bible-tainted religiosity designed to make people feel good about themselves, we have lost our saltiness.

Who Has the Strange Fire?

John MacArthur 
Satan never tires of finding ways to divide and conquer the members in the body of Christ. Jesus' greatest desire for His followers was that we be one. Unified. As He and the Father are unified. Yet, within Christianity there is a never-ending drive to divide. Right-fighting has often replaced sound teaching. Mud-slinging and insistence that one ideology is the ONLY correct understanding of God's Word is drawing more attention from the world than our real message of hope and salvation.

The most recent enlisted man in this flesh-induced battle for supremacy is none other than well-respected Bible scholar John MacArthur. It grieves my heart, as it must grieve the heart of our Lord, that he is so driven to demolish what he believes are wrong teachings that he loads a sawed-off shotgun and fires without aiming. His intended target may be the radical wingnuts who claim to represent a different ideology. But with his self-named "Strangefire Conference,"  Dr. MacArthur mows down some pretty stellar brothers and sisters such as R. A. Torrey, A. W. Tozer, D. L. Moody, Dr. John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Dr. Jack Hayford and thousands more. Strangefire seems an odd name for his conference, since thousands who disagree with his stance see the strange fire as coming from his camp, aimed at taking out millions whom he professes to love.

I discovered the following article and found it to be a respectful challenge to Dr. MacArthur's conference. It also includes some facts the distinguished doctor wants to overlook in his zeal to defend his position.  While we are all disheartened at the extremes that some take in the name of the Holy Spirit, there have always been extremists in every camp. That doesn't mean that anyone who agrees with them on any point is as wrong as they are. I'm surprised a man like Dr. MacArthur doesn't know that and it makes me wonder:Has spiritual arrogance replaced a teachable heart?

Try this article and see if you agree: Is John MacArthur Right?


The Secret in the Jar

The woman who broke her alabaster jar of expensive perfume and anointed the feet of Jesus is only identified in the Bible as an "immoral woman." But this was not the only immoral woman in town. This was not the only woman with an alabaster jar. How many others had heard about the famous Rabbi who may actually be the promised Messiah? How many hearts had skipped a beat as anxious hands clutched their own jars more tightly? Had there been others lurking In the shadows, hiding in the alleys?

Only one thing set this woman apart from every other needy heart in town: she went in. She dared to shoulder her way through the disapproving frowns and all the way to Jesus. She had no way of knowing how she would be received. He could reject her gift.
He could reject her. But with this plan, there was no going back. She brought everything she had and cashed it in.
No one else was willing to take the risk. Fear, shame, or self-loathing was a stronger god. Others kept their alabaster jars tucked safely away, assuring themselves it was not enough. He wouldn't want what they had--- broken promises, failures, the angry shouts of a past they could not silence. So they kept a tight grip on their jars and watched as others found hope and freedom. They watched an immoral woman go in to Jesus and emerge as the pure Bride of Christ. She was minus the jar, but would forever carry the fragrance of its contents poured out.

Here's the secret of the jar....it's your safety net. You may loathe its contents. It may smell horrid to you; that's why you refuse to break it. You cannot image Someone like Jesus would want such a thing. But the fragrance only comes when it is offered. It will continue to reek, held captive in your hands. Poured out on the feet of Jesus, it becomes a sweet fragrance fit for a King.


The Zealot

 A shocking little story in Numbers 25 gives us a glimpse into the mind of God. The Israelites were in big trouble for committing sexual sin and worshiping idols. They were doing exactly what God had warned them NOT to do, becoming like the pagans around them. God sent a horrible plague through the camp, which brought the whole nation before God in repentance. Right in the middle of their worship service, one guy swaggered through their meeting with a sleazy girl on his arm, headed to his tent to do exactly what the people of God were repenting for.
Phinehas, great nephew of Moses, was horrified and did something about it. He followed the boldly-sinning pair to their tent and ran his spear through them both. Instead of condemning Phinehas for murder, God praised him for being "zealous with my zeal." God honored him and promised that blessings would follow for generations to come. He also stopped the plague he had sent upon the rest of the people.

So what can we learn from this? The modern notion is that when God sent Jesus, He threw out the whole concept of holiness. Is that what the Bible teaches? Could it be that God is still pleased when we refuse to tolerate boldly sinning people who claim to belong to Him? If the God who never changes was pleased with Phinehas' zeal for God's honor, is he equally pleased when we use the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God (Eph. 6), to confront boldly-sinning church members?

Seems like we might have this whole tolerance and passive-love thing upside down. We've developed the idea that God honors those who look the other way. We call it love. But the God of Love praised Phinehas for being "zealous with my zeal." What is God zealous about? The righteousness and holiness of His people. When we are zealous for righteousness and holiness--in our own lives as well as the lives of those who profess to be brothers and sisters--scripture is clear that we honor God and he is pleased to honor us.


Idols in the Sanctuary

 When Paul toured Ephesus, he noted that the Ephesians were very religious (Acts 17:22). They had shrines to everything; even one dedicated to The Unknown God. But Paul explained that they were missing the point.  He might say the same thing if he toured our churches today.

Idolatry does not necessarily confine itself to shrines outside the church. Due to an alarming rate of biblical illiteracy, as well as growing Western egocentrism, Christianity has done what the Ephesians did. It has added Jesus to a plethora of other gods, many of which are heavily glossed with spirituality and encased in selected Bible verses. But they are gods, nonetheless.

The most subtle and attractive of these gods can walk arm-in-arm with even those who would most loudly decry their presence. Yet, these impostors waltz right into the church services and out again every Sunday without challenge, often receiving a heaping dose of praise from the very pulpits that spawned them.

Personal well-being and self-worth are attractive gods that have wormed their way into American hearts without apology. We can easily embrace a God who promises health, safety, and comfort. But is it truly Yahweh we worship or is it our own satisfaction? Whose name is really on the gold-plated shrine: God's or ours? Do we really worship the Lord Himself or is it His comforting promises? Romans 1 describes in unflattering terms those who "worship the creature rather than the Creator."

Health and prosperity are twin gods as false as Romulus and Remus, yet they are worshiped to some extent by most evangelicals as though the blessings were Jehovah Himself. They are "claimed," "believed for", and enthusiastically defended, but when adversity or persecution hits with fury, we recoil in disbelief, feeling as though our god has betrayed us. And so it has.

Family is also a god that marches boldly alongside the Real One. We proudly champion this god as though surely the Lord would make an exception to the First Commandment in this case. The homeschooling movement danced perilously close to this shrine without realizing the danger. As attractive as it seems to make a spouse or precious children our whole world, we can easily slide those relationships into first place. We justify the substitution with scarcely a nod at Matthew 10:37 in which Jesus clearly says that if we love anything more than Him we are not worthy of Him.

Idolatry is not always foreign to the church. Its most tantalizing shrines are to those ideals that sound spiritual but are well-disguised substitutes for God Himself. Self loves to cloak itself in religious finery, and if we are not on guard, will replace the Triune Person who alone claims the right to be God.

Gay and Christian? Can it be?

Hi, I`m a lesbian and a Christian. I believe in God. I go to church. I try to do right by Him.  I don`t think God would condemn me to hell because of who I love. Can you explain to me why? I`m not hurting anyone or doing anything wrong... Am I really going to hell?

I can sense the frustration in your question and I hope you hear sincerity and compassion in my answer. Finding truth starts with dismantling some fallacies and inaccuracies buried within your question that you most likely did not realize were there. It is my prayer that as you read this, the truth will begin to illuminate the confusion that has prompted your question.

Illumination begins with challenging some terms you have adopted and by which you have labeled yourself without realizing the full implications of doing so. First, let’s define the term “Christian” as the Bible does. Since no one has the right to define God or His plans except Him, then we have to adhere as closely as possible to what His Word tells us. Scripture says we are all sinners (Romans 3:23, 3:10). According to the Bible, we all deserve hell for our sin and rebellion against God and His righteousness (Romans 6:23). So our condemnation is not based upon whether one sin is worse than another. We are all equal in our depravity and all deserving of God's judgment.

Jesus said, "Wide is the path that leads to destruction and many are on it, but narrow is the path that leads to life and few are they who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14). So who are those few who find eternal life? The religious people thought they were surely on the right path. The self-righteous thought they were too. The people with the right pedigree, or the right church membership, or the right set of religious beliefs all thought they were fine. After all, they believed in God, went to church, tried to do right, and were certainly not as bad as some people.

Jesus answered that question when a man named Nicodemus asked Him the same thing. Jesus’ answer was that we must be "born again" (John 3:3). Jesus used that illustration because we all understand birth. In physical birth, a new creature emerges that did not previously exist. A human baby resembles the parents and she immediately begins to grow. As she grows, she looks more and more like them.

Spiritual birth is the same. Birth pangs begin when we recognize that we are hopeless sinners, undeserving of God’s mercy. We understand that He sent his own Son to take the punishment our sin deserves so that we could be forgiven. We recognize that it was for our salvation that He was raised from the dead so that we would no longer have to be mastered and enslaved by the very sins that He died for.

But this recognizing is not salvation. Neither the awareness of truth nor the mental appreciation for it is salvation. The outward display of Christian activity is not salvation. Jesus was clear what it takes to become His follower. He said, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Like 9:23). That cross he referred to is the death of our fleshly nature--the part of us that likes to sin. If we want Him, we have to be willing to let Him replace our old self with a new one. We have to have a total change of mind about our own sin and who is boss. The bible calls that “repentance.” Without true heart repentance, we cannot be saved. We don't earn this gift from God. Our good deeds do not impress Him. The new birth is a divine paradox: a free gift that costs us everything we are. Only a change of heart and a change of ownership grant us entrance into God’s family.

So the first question you must answer is this: “Have I truly been born again?” Many people make the same mistake that the religious people of Jesus’ day did. But 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature. Old things are passed away; all things have become new.” Scripture requires that we examine our lives, not our ideology, and ask ourselves this question: "When did I become a new creature? At what point did my life, my desires, and my perspective switch from my own way to God’s way?" If no such change has occurred, then most likely no new birth occurred either. In that case, then no sin is worse than another, because we stand condemned before God already.

The second fallacy we need to address is your self-designation as “lesbian.” Satan cons many people into identifying themselves by only one aspect of their fleshly natures. To define yourself by your sexual temptations is like someone else saying, "Hi. I am a kleptomaniac. That is who I am and you need to accept it.” Or, “Hi, I want the world to define me by my overwhelming desire to lie.” Or another saying, “The most important fact about my identity is that I am a cutter. I'm not hurting anybody, so I don't see why it matters how much harm I inflict upon my body.” When we begin to define ourselves by our sin, we have fallen into Satan’s trap and are totally missing the truth.

The truth as God defines it is this: We are all human beings created in the image of God for His glory and pleasure (Colossians 1:16). Since we are His creation, He knows best how our lives should be lived. The Designer also wrote the instruction manual. He created each of us as either male or female. He also designed sexuality and placed healthy restrictions on its use. Electricity is a good and powerful invention, if it is used correctly. Used wrongly, it can destroy. 

Sexuality is a sacred thing, the design of God. He alone can define its use. The Bible is clear that sex was created to be enjoyed between one man and one woman who are in a covenant marriage until one of them dies (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:8). Any use of sexuality outside those parameters constitutes abuse of God’s gift. “Abuse” is the use of something or someone in ways for which they were not designed. The Bible calls this sin. Adultery, premarital sex, pornography, and homosexual relations are all outside God’s design, which makes them sin.

When we give our lives to Christ and enter the kingdom of God, we transfer ownership of everything to Him. That’s what the Bible means when it says that we are saved by making Jesus LORD of our lives (Romans 10:9). We no longer have the right to defy His stated will for us. Our lives belong to Him and lour goal is to glorify Jesus, not please ourselves. Self-worship is what earns us God’s judgment in the first place. We cannot worship self and God at the same time. He does not share His throne.
If you have spent any time in the scriptures, then you know that homosexual behavior is condemned all the way through the Bible (Leviticus 20:13; Jude 1:17). Probably the strongest warning is found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 which says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” 
The people who will not inherit the kingdom of God are those whose lives are defined by their sin choices. Temptation is not a sin. Same sex attraction is not a sin. Acting on it is. Lust in your heart is (Matthew 5:28). Every evil thing listed in this verse starts in the heart as a temptation. God is warning us that if we allow those things to become who we are by acting on them, we cannot also be followers of Jesus Christ. We cannot follow both sin and Jesus. They are going in opposite directions.

Some people will argue at this point that they “were born this way” and, therefore, acting on those urges is unavoidable. They justify their sin by convincing themselves that God must have made them this way, so why not indulge. The truth is that there is no medical evidence whatsoever that anyone HAS to sin. We are all born with a sin nature. We all have different weaknesses and temptations. For some men, remaining faithful to one wife feels impossible. A man may argue that his sexual needs are not being fully met and, therefore, he should have the freedom to sleep with other women in an open marriage. Even if his wife agrees to it, adultery is just as sinful. Sin is not always about hurting someone else according to our standards. Sin is about violating God’s standards.
An alcoholic fights tremendous urges to drink. But when he gives his life to Christ, his desire changes and he now wants to do whatever necessary to curb those sinful impulses. More than gratifying his flesh, he wants to remain faithful to Jesus, who warns against drunkenness (Galatians 5:21; 1 Peter 4:30).  Jesus said, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
 This was a rather long response because your question deserves a complete answer. The questions as you stated them could not be accurately answered in that form because they were based on some false assumptions. I encourage you to let God take an honest look into your heart, not through the screen of self-justification, but with an honest desire to know Him. God loves you. He designed you for Himself. No amount of self-gratification is as satisfying as a life totally submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ. I urge you to tune out the world's opinion of who God is and what He says and let His word speak for itself.


Open and Shut Case

I wonder why we ever adopted the posture of folding our hands when we pray. 

Maybe it was started by mothers of fidgety preschoolers, and we kept it when we grew up. Unfortunately, that posture often reflects the attitude we bring when we come before God. Many times we approach God with fists clenched, clinging tightly to what we consider ours: our rights, our pride, our relationships, or our dreams.

True worship, true prayer, comes with open hands. Whatever we cannot place in those open hands and offer to God is the source of our problems. What we refuse to offer Him fully will be the very thing that keeps us from being all God created us to be.

Maybe that's why God wants us to lift our hands in worship. He wants us to notice that when we try to lift closed hands... they are fists!

Up or Down

Look at this ladder. Is it an Up ladder or a Down ladder? It can be either, can't it? The rungs on a ladder are neutral. They are merely steps that facilitate whichever direction we have chosen to go.

The events in our lives are like rungs on a ladder. Some events are joyful and some are painful. But the events themselves have no power to determine our destination, just as rungs on a ladder cannot determine whether we go up or down.

We decide whether each event leads us upward toward God or downward into darkness. The agonizing loss that one person uses as a step toward addiction, propels another toward God. The painful childhood that one uses as a step downward, is for another the rung that brings them up toward a heavenly Father. We become the people God created us to be when we stop blaming the ladder.



The road is dark and winding, but you are sure you're headed in the right direction. You can't wait to get there. You've heard about it from others and you want to get there with all your heart. 
You press the accelerator and WHAM! You hit something. The car stops dead in the road.

Rather than find out what you hit, you turn your head and stare out the side window into the dark. You press the accelerator harder. Nothing. You put the car in reverse, back up a few inches, then plow forward again. WHam! Same thing. Something is in the way and you don't know what it is. You're not going anywhere.
What would you do?

It's a tiny word with a big ugly feel to it. We hardly hear it anymore. It has become unfashionable. Even from the pulpit, we rarely hear it mentioned. We have decided it is harsh and sounds judgmental. It might offend people and above all, we must not offend.

Satan loves this line of thought. He invented it. Because he knows something that even most professing Christians don't know: Repentance is the doorway to freedom.

Unconfessed sin is a roadblock on our path to spiritual wholeness. We slam into it as we try to draw closer to God, but we refuse to look at it. We come up with every excuse Satan can provide to avoid confessing it to God. 

"It was a long time ago."
"It wasn't that big a deal."
"Lots of people do that."
"I'm not perfect. Everyone makes mistakes."

We turn our heads and refuse to see what is in the way of our moving toward God. We get frustrated with our progress and add guilt to the equation. So we press the accelerator on Bible reading, prayer time, or church attendance to see if that will overcome the obvious stall in our path to God. Nothing happens.

One of Satan's favorite tricks for Christians is to convince us that we don't need to continue to repent. We are saved from our sin, so everything is fine from here on. Right?

Wrong. We may be saved from the eternal penalty of our sin, but we must maintain the continuing freedom from it here on earth. When we mess up (and we will), confession to God and repentance restores us once more to that fellowship we long for. Unconfessed sins are like bricks in a wall between us and God. HE didn't build the wall; we did. And only we can tear it down through confession and rejection of it.

Have you hit something in the road toward God? Don't turn your head and pretend you don't know what it is. Confess it. God already knows about it and is waiting to cleanse you of it so you can move forward together.


Grow or Build

Talk to any pastor or full-time church worker and they will immediately discuss with either pride or shame how well their church is "growing." But what does that really mean?
Francis Chan points out that any group of talented people can grow a church. Give people the religious flavor they love and they will come. But it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to build a church. Jesus said, "On this rock I will build my church. " He didn't say he would "grow" it. He was talking about something else.
You can grow a church on the picked-over message of Positivity (God loves you, thinks you're awesome, wants to help you with your stuff, and give you the dreams of your heart.) You don't need the Holy Spirit for that because it appeals to our self-centered flesh. People come because they feel better when they leave. They get charged up on some awesome music, toss a tip in the offering bucket, get fed on a fattening diet of encouragement and religious hype about a cool Jesus who wants to use His powers to help their business succeed and their self-image inflate. They feel terrific when they leave for the game that afternoon and the casino that night.

Is that the kind of growth Jesus was talking about? The Holy Spirit builds His church on the foundation Jesus taught: total surrender, sacrifice, Lordship, and dying to self. A church is built in the hearts of each member and is based on the greatest commandment: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength."
Growth churches have subtly replaced that message with: Love Myself with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and find out how to use God to do it. We have a world full of growth churches, but very few built ones. Which one is yours?

Is There Life After Life?


Where are you headed next?

The Bible is clear that there are two possible destinations for every human soul following physical death: heaven or hell. Only the righteous inherit eternal life, and the only way to be declared righteous before God is through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The souls of the righteous go directly into the presence of God.

For those who do not receive Jesus Christ as Savior, death means everlasting punishment. This punishment is described in a variety of ways: a lake of fire, outer darkness, and a prison, for example. This place of punishment is eternal. There is no biblical support for the notion that after death people get another chance to repent. Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that everyone dies physically and, after that, comes the judgment. Christians have already been judged and sentenced. Jesus took that sentence upon Himself. Our sin becomes His and His righteousness becomes ours when we believe in Him. Because He took our just punishment, we need not fear ever being separated from Him again. The judgment for unbelievers is still to come.

Second Thessalonians 1:8–9 says, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” The misery of hell will consist of not only physical torture, but the agony of being cut off from every avenue of happiness. God is the source of all good things. To be cut off from God is to forfeit all exposure to anything good. Hell will be a state of perpetual sin; yet those suffering there will possess full understanding of sin’s horrors. Remorse, guilt, and shame will be unending, yet accompanied by the conviction that the punishment is just.

There will no longer be any deception about the “goodness of man.” To be separated from God is to be forever shut off from light, love, joy, and peace because God is the source of all those good things. Any good we observe in humanity is merely a reflection of the character of God, in whose image we were created (Genesis 1:27).

While the spirits of those regenerated by God’s Holy Spirit will abide forever with God in a perfected state (1 John 3:2), the opposite is true of those in hell. None of the goodness of God will exist in them. Whatever good they may have thought they represented on earth will be shown for the selfish, lustful, idolatrous thing it was (Isaiah 64:6). Man’s ideas of goodness will be measured against the perfection of God’s holiness and be found severely lacking. Those in hell have forever lost the chance to see God’s face, hear His voice, experience His forgiveness, or enjoy His fellowship. To be forever separated from God is the ultimate punishment.

For more information about how to avoid this eternal separation, click here.

How Do We Honor God?


Honor is universal in the human experience. In every society, people honor certain members for culturally-determined reasons. From medals to dinners to public acclaim, we honor those we deem worthy of ultimate respect. But how do we honor God?

Revelation 4:10–11 describes a scene in heaven: “The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and . . . lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.’” The words translated “glory” and “honor” are closely related and often used interchangeably in the Bible. But there is a subtle difference between them. The word most often translated “glory” means “something that has inherent, intrinsic worth” while the word translated “honor” means “perceived value; to render or esteem glorious.”

Glory is a quality inherent in the one being glorified. Glory can be thought of as a mirror that accurately reflects what is there. When we accurately reflect the character of God, we glorify Him. To glorify God is to honor Him for who He really is. God has glory because He is infinitely valuable. Human beings have glory because we are created in the image of the One who is all-glorious (Genesis 1:27). We glorify God when we demonstrate through word or action His glorious character or deeds. Modeling the character of Jesus is a way to glorify God, because we are showcasing His attributes. When we glorify God, we bring Him honor.

Honor originates in our hearts and refers to the value we personally place on something or someone. Collectors hold certain items in higher esteem than non-collectors do. What others overlook may be highly valued by someone else and therefore honored. We honor other people to the degree that we consider their position and contributions significant. We are commanded to honor people because of their position, not their performance. We are commanded to honor our fathers and mothers (Deuteronomy 5:16; Mark 7:10), the elderly (Leviticus 19:32), and those who rule over us (1 Peter 2:17). When we honor God, we are demonstrating the high regard we have for Him. We are reflecting His glory back as praise and worship.

The Bible shows many ways to honor and glorify God. We show Him high regard and reflect His character by being sexually pure (1 Corinthians 6:18–20), by giving of our income (Proverbs 3:9), and by living lives devoted to Him (Romans 14:8). It is not enough to merely honor Him outwardly. God desires honor that comes from our hearts. “The Lord says, ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’” (Isaiah 29:13). When we delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:4), seek Him in everything we do (1 Chronicles 16:11; Isaiah 55:6), and make choices that reflect the place He has in our hearts, we bring Him the greatest honor.


Hurray? Really?


Hollywood is more than a city in California. The name has become synonymous with the values, lifestyles, and philosophies of movie stars, celebrities and wannabes. In the Bible, the cities Sodom and Gomorrah had the same stigma (Genesis 18:20; Jude 1:7). They had become defined by their extreme values and lifestyle. To this day, when we hear of Sodom and Gomorrah, we think of sexual perversion great enough to bring God’s judgment (Genesis 19:24–25).

We often use the term Hollywood to refer to anything pertaining to the entertainment industry, even though other cities such as New York and Nashville contribute to it also. Although there are many Christians and ordinary people living in Hollywood, the city is known for its lavish materialism, adultery, sensuality, self-worship, idolatry, and anti-God bias. The overwhelming majority of movies and television shows Hollywood produces are filled with profanity, graphic or implied sex, and blatant promotion of all types of sin. Children are seduced by the “glamor” of Hollywood from their preschool years and grow up longing to be movie stars. Parents who recall their own star-struck childhood race to buy the latest product endorsed by the current heartthrob, regardless of the morals or lifestyle that idol embraces. Unfortunately, we are reaping the disastrous results of another generation raised by Hollywood’s standards.

There are several questions to consider in forming a response to Hollywood.

1. What, exactly, so attracts us to Hollywood? Part of Hollywood’s appeal is the covetousness it champions. From every newsstand and television set, we are told that we want what the celebrities have. Headlines such as “America Wants to Know!” or “The Life Every Woman Dreams Of” scream at us from checkout lines, planting the message that we cannot possibly be content if we are not following celebrities. Millions gobble it up and, in their attempt to live like their idols, become indebted, anorexic, or promiscuous. Hollywood is in the business of creating idols and foisting them upon us whether we want them or not.

God has strong words for the sin of covetousness. He included it in His Top Ten List (Exodus 20:17). Jesus said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15). Covetousness is a thief that steals joy, peace, and contentment—qualities God wants His children to have in abundance (Galatians 5:22; 1 Timothy 6:6). So, for a Christian to become enamored with the lavish lifestyles of the rich and famous is to break God’s tenth commandment and forfeit the contentment He wants us to develop.

2. Why is Hollywood so influential? Aside from the materialism it wallows in, Hollywood has come to represent the great American fascination with entertainment. Entertainment is an idol that has crept quietly through the back door of Western Christianity. It goes mostly unnoticed as a threat because it does not wear the mask of evil. Entertainment itself is neutral. We use it to distract crying babies, quiet restless children, and relax weary workers. Entertainment can help unify a family on vacation, give teenagers something healthy to do, and bring enjoyment in stressful times.

But in prosperous cultures, entertainment has become an addiction. Entertainment for its own sake steals time, money, and mental energy that could be spent on more worthwhile pursuits. The world’s appetite for entertainment is Hollywood’s lifeblood. Without a demand for entertainment, celebrities would have to get real jobs like everyone else. Hollywood could not sustain itself without the public’s hunger for more. As with any addiction, the craving for greater thrills increases, and that’s why the public demands spectacles that are bigger, louder, more exciting, more beautiful, and more sensual. The lust for entertainment replaces the joy of the Lord until time with God is seen as an interruption in the pursuit of pleasure. At that point, entertainment has replaced God as our supreme delight and has become an idol (Exodus 20:3; 34:14; Jeremiah 2:13).

Entertainment is also wrong when we allow ourselves to be captivated by things that displease the Lord (Romans 1:32). When we excuse a movie’s sex scenes with “It had a good message” or become fans of openly immoral entertainers, we are crossing a line. We are allowing Hollywood rather than God’s Word to define our values. When making entertainment choices, one good question to ask is: “If Jesus was coming to spend the weekend with me, would I be happy to share this with Him?” Would He approve of the movie? reality show? new CD? Would He buy a People magazine and feast on the stories of mate-swapping and infidelity? Would He applaud the sensual dancers on the stage? If He would not, then why do we?

3. Do we excuse language and behavior in movies and television shows that we would never endorse if it was done in our homes? If we willingly sit through acts of violence, immorality, profanity, and anti-Christian themes without it bothering us, then perhaps we have allowed the values of Hollywood to invade our lives. When we can fill our minds with vulgarities on Saturday night, yet show up for worship on Sunday morning with no awareness of the inconsistency, we have fallen victim to the lure of the Hollywood god.

Philippians 4:8 instructs us about our thought life: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (ESV). Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19). When our minds have entertained that which God calls evil, our thought life and eventually our actions will be affected. Proverbs 13:20 says, “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.”

How we spend our time eventually defines us. If Hollywood is not reflecting the values we claim to cherish, then we must be careful how much time we spend with it. To honor God, we must compare the values coming out of Hollywood to the unchanging standard of Scripture. Then we must “hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9). Hollywood flaunts what God despises. Why do we suppose God is indifferent when a culture clamors for depictions of sin? As Christians, we are to seek after God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). If any form of entertainment does not support that goal, our response must be to reject it.

What is Spiritual Enlightenment?

Many are on the quest for "spiritual enlightenment." It sounds quite lofty and inspiring, doesn't it? But what it is? Is “spiritual enlightenment” something everyone should pursue?

The term usually has overtones of New Age and Eastern mysticism, tracing its  roots to religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Gnosticism. Teaching the goodness of the inner self, transcendentalism, or the worship of angels is all man-made ideology and is contrary to the Bible. Jehovah God is the ultimate Spirit, and any search for “enlightenment” must lead to Him, through His Son, or it is a false religion (Exodus 20:3; Isaiah 45:5; John 14:6).

The goal of spiritual enlightenment is to satisfy the human longing for immortality and purpose. People have attempted to meet that longing through a variety of emotional experiences that they call “god.” But we cannot create our own gods. Nor can we decide how we will approach the real God. He already exists, and the only way a human being can truly know Him is through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 10:30). Because of our sinful state, we cannot come to a holy God by any other means. All paths do NOT lead to God, regardless of how sincere the seeker may be (John 3:16–18). Jesus is the way. Any religion or movement that offers another path to spiritual wholeness is leading away from true enlightenment, not toward it.

God said, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). We seek Him by getting to know Him through His Word , accepting His Son’s sacrifice for our sin, and living a life guided by the power of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16). As we grow in our faith, our understanding deepens. We begin to see life from God’s perspective (Isaiah 55:8–9), and, as we obey Him, we acquire wisdom (Psalm 128:1). So, within that context, everyone should absolutely seek spiritual enlightenment. To know God and align our will with His is the ultimate goal of human existence. The more we know Jesus Christ, the more enlightened we are (John 1:4–5). Any other path leads only to darkness (Matthew 22:13).

According to the Bible, a disciple of Christ is one who has made Jesus Christ the Lord of his or her life and has been “born again” into the family of God (John 3:3). The very act of receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is the ultimate spiritual enlightenment, because Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5). When we invite Him into our lives, He sends the Holy Spirit to dwell within our spirits (1 Corinthians 6:19). What was dead inside comes to life; what was dark becomes light. So a born-again Christian has already attained true spiritual enlightenment.

Don't Be a Fool!

What is a fool?

A fool is not merely someone with whom you disagree. The word "fool" means "a senseless fellow, a dullard." The Bible lists many characteristics of such a person, often contrasting  him with one who is wise. Ecclesiastes 10:2 says, "The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left." 

A fool is one whose heart turns continually toward foolishness. "Fools speak foolishness and make evil plans" (Isaiah 32:6). Proverbs 26:11 says, "As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly."   Fools do not learn their lessons from the mistakes they make. They continue doing the same foolish things to their own destruction (Proverbs 18:7).

The following is a partial list of some characteristics of a fool from the book of Proverbs. A fool hates knowledge (1:22), takes no pleasure in understanding (18:2), enjoys wicked schemes (Proverbs 10:23), proclaims folly (Proverbs 12:23), spurns a parent's discipline (15:5), speaks perversity (19:1), is quick-tempered (12:16), gets himself in trouble with his proud speech (14:3), mocks at sin (14:9), is deceitful (14:8), and despises his mother (15:20).  A foolish child brings grief to his or her parents (17:25; 19:13). A foolish man commits sexual immorality (6:32, 7:7-12). A foolish woman tears down her own house (14:1).
The ultimate description of a fool is one who "says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good." (Psalm 14:1, 53:1). Although fools can choose to become wise by learning from the wise and applying it (Proverbs 8:5, 21:11), the Bible warns against associating with fools (Proverbs 14:7). Proverbs 13:20 says, "Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm." 

The bad news is that there are fools all around us who have no intention of changing their ways. The good news is that you don't have to be one of them.